Triathlon is, perhaps, the best example of too much to do and not enough time. We’re only given 168 hours in a week, and even if we chose to forego sleep and any contact with the outside world, we would still be short on time for all of the activities that we would like to add: swimming, biking, running, cross training, stretching, strength training, mobility, breath work etc. etc..
So, our challenge, in addition to getting out of bed at weird hours or sweating well past when others have shut their eyes, is making sure that we use our time as effectively as possible.
I offer to you, dear readers, that you will be powerfully served by 20 minutes of meditation per day--more so than almost any other discipline that you might pursue during the offseason or peak season.
There are tomes written on what meditation is, how to do it, and why it is so valuable. Rather than try to condense all of them into a few pithy paragraphs, I’m going to focus on why meditation and its byproduct, mindfulness, are such valuable triathlon tools. If you want to learn/read more on meditation, I will post some helpful links at the end of the article for you!
Meditation provides triathletes with two invaluable resources: proper breathing and mental willpower.
Meditation allows you to create a dedicated time and space in which ALL you have to think about is breathing. No emails. No pace clock. No workout cards. Just breathing. Believe it or not, triathletes often suffer from terrible bouts of overbreathing--it’s a byproduct of spending so much time in an aerobically active or anaerobically active state. Said differently, we cause ourselves to breathe heavily so much that it actually affects how we breathe in our everyday lives. Overbreathing can lead to poor absorption of oxygen, which can cause low energy, poor digestion, lack of focus, and lost motivation. Hint: This lack of oxygen is a major contributor to why we feel so burnt out at the end of the season.
BUT, there’s an easy way to correct this. It takes only 10 minutes per day. 10 minutes of thoughtful, active breathing a day can help to retrain your breathing machinery to rely on long, slow breaths through your nose rather than hurried pants through your mouth. If you want to know more about what proper breathing looks like, or how powerful its effects are, you should read this book.
If this were the only positive product of meditation, it would be well worth it.
BUT, you get an even better and cooler benefit: mindfulness.
Now, I will cop to the fact that the word mindfulness inspires a strong gut reaction from me: bullshit. Mindfulness, for better or worse, is a heavily-hyped, overused term for anything that makes you feel like you are taking care of yourself. It’s present in yoga, and fitness, and meditation, and breathing, and leadership, and basically anywhere you can squeeze it into. If you can bear with me for a few sentences, I promise to make the notion of mindfulness more tolerable.
Mindfulness is like a protective barrier around your brain and body. Not a physical one, per se, but a barrier between you and every decision that you are going to make in the course of a day. When we are not in a mindful state, we struggle to slow down our decision-making process. The first answer is what we go with. Pizza for breakfast? Let’s do it. Ignore my rapidly climbing heart rate? Cool beans. Hit the snooze and skip my swim? Fo’ shizzle.
With mindfulness, the dialogue may look something more like this: “Pizza for breakfast? That will probably make me feel sluggish later--I’ll skip.” “Hit the snooze and skip my swim? I’ll beat myself up all day if I skip--better to get it over with.”
To be clear, mindfulness does not make you a wisened scholar, or a relationships master, or any of the other nonsense that the internet may promise you. But it does help you consider the long-term impact of your short-term choices by affording you an extra second before you feel compelled to go with your gut. This leads to making the small, important decision each day that allows you to train consistently at your highest level, which will pay MASSIVE dividends in your race results.
To learn more about meditation, I strongly recommend these resources:
-Headspace - Excellent, powerful app for both learning about and dipping your toes into the water of meditation
-Here’s a short video from Tim Ferriss explaining why meditation is so powerful
-For a more holistic look at the impact of meditation on one person’s life, try this!
Drew Davis is a certified coach in Strength work, Breathwork, and Nutrition, as well as a competitive age group athlete. He serves humans in all shapes and sizes and is taking on triathlon clients for the year ahead. If you are interested in working with him, email him directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.